If you spend any amount of time on the internet that isn’t solely on Goonhammer dot com then, first off I’m sorry, but secondly you may have seen discourse referring to so-called “Linehammer”. But what is it?
In Warhammer the Old World “Linehammer” refers to a single unit in a single rank with 20, 30, or even more models stretched out in one line. The organisational opposite of a queue, if you will. First we have to understand what this is attempting to achieve before I can tell you why it fundamentally will not work on the tabletop.
Old World is a new version of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. So new that it isn’t officially using “Warhammer Fantasy Battles” as part of its name any more. It borrows many rules from previous editions of this game and adds in plenty of new. One of these new rules (page 145 core rules) allows all models in the “fighting rank” to make a single attack regardless of how many models are actually base-to-base. A divergence from previous editions where people would try and charge in such a way so that they maximised their own attacks while diminishing the amount of attacks back from a larger, wider, unit.
This means that it does not matter how many models are in your front rank (or the file that’s been flank charged, if that happens) every model will get to make 1 attack. Most units only have 1 attack so that doesn’t make much of a difference!
The idea behind The Line is a unit of 20, 30, 40+ minis stretched out so that when charged they all get to attack. All of those attacks will overwhelm the enemy unit in their silly rank-and-file formation with more wounds caused than any static bonus they have. So you win combat, pursue, and rinse/repeat until the unit is killed before moving onto the next. Units with shooting profiles and decent melee profiles such as Dwarf Quarrellers with great weapons are one of the best units to benefit from this too: shoot with all your dudes and hit with all your dudes. It’s a win win.
In the above situation (I’m leaving out Stand and Shoot for ease) the skeletons charge in, make 7 attacks (+1 for their champion) and let’s be generous and say they kill 2 dwarfs. The quarrellers retaliate with 39 great weapon attacks killing, conservatively, 20 skeletons. The skeletons have a combat resolution of 5 (2 models killed, banner, Close Order Combat bonus, 1 full rank behind the first) where the dwarfs have a combat resolution of 21 since they also have a banner. The skeletons then crumble and probably lose most of, if not all, their unit.
Sounds (and looks) pretty stupid, right? Isn’t this meant to be a simulation of battle?? How are models that are more than 6″ away hitting with their hand weapons???
This is why it exists. If you’re new to square-based-gaming, or at least of the Warhammer variety, then count your blessings that you never had to deal with the Wrap Around rules of 6th (and maybe other?) editions. This was horrendous. I really enjoy 6th edition, broadly speaking, but this is one of the worst implemented rules in the entire book. You’d win combat, have more models than your opponent, and pick up your ranks and literally wrap them around their unit. It sounds easy but in practice, on a real table, so much can get in the way and create niche situations that the book just didn’t answer!
So the whole front rank fighting? That’s just an abstraction of wrapping around where you don’t have to do this. Be happy about that. This is much better.
Perigrin: Wrapping around is one of the worst rules GW has ever written and is causes an endless amount of rules arguments. I once saw it grind a tournament to a halt for 20 minutes as the TO was desperately trying to figure out how a super weird multi-combat was supposed to work with the wrap around rules. As Bair said, this is a much better system.
Just Doesn’t Work
In a void or a vacuum in someone’s head, where most Warhammer seems to happen, this is broken. This new rule of fighting with your first rank and creating The Line is awful and gamey and anyone doing it is “that guy”. Right?
More Than One Unit
Not really. This seems insanely powerful and broken in the above scenario of 1 unit vs 1 unit. As soon as there are multiple units charging it at once they’re causing more damage to The Line before they get to attack back.
That’s more like it! Yes of course The Line costs many less points than everything else I’ve got there but the main point of The Line is to get in the way. How you deal with this is charging it with as many units as you can commit at once; do not feed it one unit at a time! Between impact hits and attacks those dwarf quarrellers are now in a lot of trouble losing and likely losing that combat.
When The Line runs away from combat it’s causing even more issues for the units behind it by forcing a nice big bubble of Panic Tests! What better way to lose a game than have half your army run off the table from a single bad break test? Now that’s Warhammer.
Perigrin: I have seen a lot of multi-charges into units that are only 6 or 7 wide already, wider units means more contact area for charges. Generally speaking in Old World you tend to want to hit a scary, elite unit with more than one unit if at all possible in general, and this goes double for The Line.
Liam_Jordan: It’s important to know that there are units which are good for this and ones which aren’t. The Dwarf with Great Weapon is going to be the standard way of “the line” doing what it wants to do, so take units in your list to work around that. Single monsters with multiple saves are great, as are ones which prevent things working. Chaos and High Elves can both take quick units (Dragons) with 2+ saves, 5+ wards and 5+ regens. Say you’re taking 30 Dwarfs attacks back with that Great Weapon? Thats 10 hits, 3-4 Wounds, Half Saves on armour alone, before you even get into your ward or regen! Wood Elves can take a character which prevents opponents increasing their strength with the Merciw’s Locus which means they’re not even wounding on 5’s anymore, they’re just not doing damage in melee with this type of setup.
Line of Sight is also a huge factor. Unless you happen to have very convenient hills set up in your own deployment zone then you’re not going to be able to see past The Line. Your other shooting units, artillery (except indirect stone throwers) and mages with magic missiles are now standing around twiddling their thumbs. All those units that The Line is protecting? Effectively useless.
There’s also the fact that on a real table, when you’re playing a real game, you should have terrain. Have people forgotten that terrain exists? An open, empty, battlefield is boring. It takes away from any meaningful movement or strategy with your rank and file units.
Well whatever will The Line do now? Some of you will just say “well I won’t set up my Line in front of terrain that would be stupid!” and yeah obviously that would be stupid. You know what else would be stupid? Having a section of board large enough to be able to set up The Line without terrain in front of it.
Now I’m not trying to say you need to have comprehensive, and often expensive, terrain set ups for games. That’s not always realistic! Especially if you’re just playing at home. What I’ve done plenty of times is rip up some newspaper to use as outlines of woods. Grab a drink to put down as impassable terrain. There are plenty of options so that you have a good table to play on.
Perigrin: With standard 25mm bases, a 40 wide unit is about 39 inches wide. That is insanely, unreasonably wide, over half of a standard 6×4 table. You really shouldn’t ever have a full half of your table that is completely devoid of terrain. I recommend getting some nice rocks from the outside™ to serve as boulders/impassable terrain, and I use a lot of green felt cut into irregular shapes as woods. Green felt is more playable than a lot of actual woods terrain pieces for Old World, actually, nice and flat. Even smaller Lines, 20 wide or 30 wide, still take up a huge amount of space. I have found difficulty manipulating my 2 units of 10 wide Handgunners this edition, it is so hard to find a space where that many bases can manoeuvre and not cause problems on a well set up table.
Lest we not forget that ambushers exist. They may not exist for every army but they’re pretty common to find in lists. Of course there is some counter play to them since they can’t be set up within 8″ of enemy units but having even a cheap chaff unit arrive onto the flank of The Line is going to cause serious issues for it. It’s great that your whole fighting rank can fight when they’re facing the right direction, much less so when it’s just a single dude that dies and doesn’t allow you any attacks back.
Perigrin: I would like to add that any sort of flying unit, like Harpies or Pegasus Knights, can also badly mess up The Line by flying into the perfect position to either get a rear charge while other units hit the front, or by flying into the flanks as described above to deny The Line their attacks.
Liam_Jordan: You can actually combine the two above in a few different ways. There are a lot of Line of Sight blocking Vortex spells in the book lore and even more thrown in with the armies own lore’s. You can use units which are quick to get behind there vortex’s and deliver them into your opponents lined up units.
Uses for a Line
All that said there are still obvious applications for a unit set up in a straight line. Often this will be to have 10-15 model units equipped with ranged weapons so that they can all shoot. This use case has been around for numerous editions and will continue to be used. Of course you want all 10 of your handguns shooting when you don’t have a hill to hand! Getting to attack back with a couple extra is fine, too.
Unit’s frontage being a bit wider than previous editions is good and fine, too. Previously it was most common to have infantry in ranks of 5 for the static combat resolution bonus and accept that you were not rolling many dice for attacks. I believe that the days of 5-man ranks are largely gone and replaced with 6 to 7 wide ranks. This isn’t an extreme adjustment to make but absolutely makes a difference, especially for spear-wielding units.
Just that, really. It’s a fun little theory-hammer experiment to think about with this set of rules but that’s just about all it is. There may be an odd extreme case where this pops up but there are certainly ways of dealing with it too.
Quite literally just blow it off the table. A nice little Windblast spell at an angle to make it hit a board edge kills The Line…
Liam_Jordan: It’s not just the windblast spell, there are a few different spells which force your opponents to Give Ground. If you’re able to force this or have some fun and make your opponents unit Impetuous with with Phantasmagoria spell you’re going to have a great time forcing them to charge your unit at a funny angle and then boom, what a nice flank you have there!
What are your thoughts on The Line? Leave a comment below or @ me in our Patreon Discord server to talk about it. Any questions or other comments you have leave a comment or email in to firstname.lastname@example.org.